Eleanor Roosevelt – The Liberal Case for Israel

Recently, I visited the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his presidential library in Hyde Park. The house is preserved much the way it looked when FDR died in 1945 and the museum at the library does an excellent job of telling the story of his presidency. One of the more interesting aspects of the site is how FDR’s wife Eleanor (who has her own abbreviation, ER) fits into the narrative. She and her husband were distant cousins, and she was the niece of Teddy Roosevelt, so she brought her own distinguished pedigree to the relationship.

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John Stanley Grauel – One Who Saves a Single Life

Adath Israel’s Linder Archives are a treasure trove of riches waiting to be discovered and explored. Over the last few months, as we celebrate our 100th anniversary, I have been sharing some of the items that illuminate our history. These have been documents, letters, and newspaper articles, but our archives also contain audiovisual materials as well: records, reel-to-reel audio tapes, celluloid film, slides, and cassette and VCR tapes. These formats are obsolete today so with the help of our member Ed Alpern, we have transferred the material to digital files so that they can be shared. Continue reading “John Stanley Grauel – One Who Saves a Single Life”

As a Consequence

Adath’s year of Centennial Shabbat Evening Services celebrating our 100 years concluded on August 4, 2023 with a service dedicated to the most recent decades of our existence, the 2000s and 2010s. The Torah portion that Shabbat, Ekev, teaches us the importance of consequences. Our actions have an impact, and we do matters:

Deuteronomy 7:12-13a

And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, the Lord your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant made on oath with your fathers: [God] will favor you and bless you and multiply you.

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To Build and to Plant

In the Jewish calendar, between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, is the Three Weeks, a period of morning when we commemorate the time between the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. During this time, we read three haftarot related to the theme of destruction rather than the theme of the Torah portion. In the first of these haftarot of admonition we read the opening of the Book of Jeremiah and his call to prophecy. In fact, God gives him his mission statement:

רְאֵ֞ה הִפְקַדְתִּ֣יךָ ׀ הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֗ה עַל־הַגּוֹיִם֙ וְעַל־הַמַּמְלָכ֔וֹת לִנְת֥וֹשׁ וְלִנְת֖וֹץ וּלְהַאֲבִ֣יד וְלַהֲר֑וֹס לִבְנ֖וֹת וְלִנְטֽוֹעַ׃ {פ}

See, I appoint you this day
Over nations and kingdoms:
To uproot and to pull down,
To destroy and to overthrow,
To build and to plant.

Jeremiah 1:10

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The Inheritance of Our Children

The Hasidic Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, who died in 1905, wrote:

In the soul of every person there lies a hidden point that is aflame with the love of God, a fire that cannot be put out. Even though ‘it may not be put out’ here refers to a prohibition, it is also a promise. Thus our sages said, ‘Even though fire descends from heaven, it is a commandment to bring it from a common source. (Sefat Emet on Vayikra, Tzav 3:23)

The message of Rabbi Yehuda, known by the title of his work, Sefat Emet, is that we must not put out the fire of tradition, but at the same time, we should understand the promise that the fire will never go out because of our commitment. The challenge of living a Jewish life in modern times is that we all have the choice to opt out, to just say we are not interested in Judaism. We speak about keeping the flame of Judaism alive, but at the same time, that isn’t the best argument for why be Jewish. To say, “I am involved because that is what my parents and grandparents did” is not a strong positive message. Judaism may have mattered to them, but why does it matter to us?

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A Jewish Story

Adath celebrated our history during the 1940s and 1950s at a centennial instrumental Shabbat evening service Friday, February 3, 2023.

The prototypical Jewish story is a tale of a people somehow surviving difficult situations and thriving. This ever-dying people has persevered for over 2000 years. We have seen our fair share of miracles, but we have also embraced the mundanities of daily existence. This contrast is the story of Adath Israel Congregation in the 1940s and 50s: a time when our community witnessed the horrors of World War II, the devastation of the Holocaust, but also the joy of the allied victory in the war and the creation of the State of Israel. Through it all the congregation had to do the work of religious services, education, and community building.

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Letters from Leaders

Throughout Adath Israel’s early history, our congregation crossed paths with a number of important figures in the Jewish community. The Linder Archives includes correspondence with leaders of the Conservative movement as Adath was trying to establish itself in Trenton.

One of the important goals of the new synagogue was finding a rabbi. The congregation reached out to several rabbis in the field, including Israel Goldstein. He replied back in a letter from 1920, three years before Adath’s founding, with two questions: “1) How conservative is your Synagogue intended to be, is it to have an organ, is it to have family pews? 2) Who suggested my name to you?” Continue reading “Letters from Leaders”

Early Ups and Downs

On Friday, December 2, 2022, Adath continued its celebration of 100 years with a centennial instrumental Shabbat evening service focused on our history from the 1920s and 1930s. These were the first two decades of Adath’s existence, when things were rocky.

The threats came both from the outside and the inside. First, Adath had to contend with the Great Depression just 6 years after our founding and only 3 years after the completion of the building on Bellevue Avenue in Trenton. I found in the Linder Archives a document called “The Adath Israel Congregation Story by Samuel R. Lavine” written around 1955. He notes that the depression years were hard. In his words, “the finances during those fateful, history-making years was insufficient to cover the successful operation of the synagogue.”

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Adath’s Beginnings

While Adath was founded on October 15, 1923, the process that led to the creation of our synagogue actually began with a letter dated November 2, 1920. In my sermon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah 2022, I explore the reasons why a group of 18 Jewish residents of Trenton invited their fellow community members to join them at a meeting to discuss the creation of a new Conservative synagogue in the city. Their situation has many parallels to ours today. Continue reading “Adath’s Beginnings”